Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Water in Canada:A Resource in Crisis by Hanneke Brooymans

This 2011 book published by Canadian Currents is written with that same sort of Alberta-grown call-to-action tone backed up by solid data that made Alberta journalist Andrew Nikiforuk reknown for his exposure of the oil sands industry. Water in Canada begins with a foreword by Dr. David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta and an expert in water-related issues.As Schindler remarks in the forward, Canadians are surrounded by freshwater, making it easy for us to take freshwater for granted. However, this view is "at variance with what freshwater experts deal with and read about every day.” Describing his own experience, Schindler quotes, "it is like the view from the locomotive 10 seconds before the train wreck."As Schindler promises, Brooymans compiles all the expert data, (and insider facts) and writes the story of Water in Canada as an excellent read. She is a real life Edmonton Journal writer with that Albertan drive to speak the truth, and the book is a summary of years of research by herself and others committed to studying detailed measurements now exposed to the public eye. In her challenging introduction she muses, how would humans "handle environmental issues if they lived to be 200 years old? How cavalier would people be about their tinkering with the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration, for example, if they knew they were the guinea pigs?" It is an interesting philosophical approach, and it sets the tone for an examination of ways we have allowed industry to destroy the nature to the enrichment of a few and the detriment of many, based on a shared cultural assumption of infinite water resources. Brooyman remarks, “ Canadians are not water rich- we only think we are." She adds, “can we snap out of our collective delusion in time? Maybe. But that would require a significant boost in the country's collective water literacy, which is currently as shallow and murky as a mud puddle." Expect plenty of water-related expressions in the book, the book is rife with them, but then tend to be placed at just the right moment, and so work to give punch to the writing rather than to detract. The book, written like all good journalism, delivers regarding water politics, economic issues, sustainability and other concerns. Brooyman also ventures from the philosophical to the psychological, describing a mental condition called “environmental generational amnesia” as a driving concern of hers throughout the book."Yes, humans are adaptable...but do we want our grandchildren drawing on shrunken, polluted streams and rivers and frolicking in filthy puddles that used to be crystal-clear lakes and thinking this is normal? It could easily happen. Peter Kahn, a human development psychologist, calls this environmental generational amnesia. With each generation the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation in its youth takes that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition-as the normal experience."In exploring the quantification and health of our water supply describes the mechanics of the hydrologic cycle in an intriguing way. It is hard to write science for lay-people, but Brooyman does an exceptional job. Lake volume data in Canada is not generally available, as "while volume is measured for larger lakes (80 to be exact), the 2 million smaller lakes are relatively shallow." Brooyman explains that there are “645 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres, and Statistics Canada estimates they hold 17, 398 cubic kilometres of water. River length and outflow is also measured, as well as maximum discharge. Water assets based on a region depend on many factors, including precipitation and other features.” Brooyman also explains mapping groundwater (I wondered how they did that) and uneven distribution, which is fascinating, adding something I mused upon, Ontario has the most people and the least lakes.Each chapter in the book is well-sequenced, moving quickly to a study of the business of bottled water. Part Two, (the book is divided in three parts) water governance, including fair-handed information on governance of the Great Lakes and other international waters. The final part of the book, Part Three, is called “ the future of water” and includes a chapter on changing attitudes, another on changing climate, and a discussion of future care-taking, clean up and research. Finally, she includes an examination of the potential for business to exploit opportunities in ensuring clean-water technologies meet their mark. Or market. A tight, optimistic conclusion includes inspirational words from Maude Barlow and the extensive bibliography and index. Highly useful, a recommended read.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Climate Capitalism

Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen
Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change

Very well-written and represents a peek into the strategy of some major power interests dedicated to rescuing our little blue ball. It's also a bit of a user-friendly wake-up book, and I liked it. “People raised on images of limitless possibilities, muscle cars, Western superiority in world markets, and a rising standard of living watched in shock as General Motors, the iconic American business, melted in bankruptcy in 2008. For many the magnitude of that collapse has yet to sink in. Nor has the recognition that Toyota became the world's largest car company-riding to prominence on the success of fuel-efficient vehicles that seem an affront to everything that made America great. GM's emergence from bankruptcy is similarly based on a small electric hybrid.” 
The book does amply demonstrates how intelligent use of market mechanisms can solve the climate crisis not at a cost but as an investment, delivering enhanced profitability and a stronger economy as well as a better future for the planet. While “the best and fastest way to protect the climate is to reduce the unnecessary use of fossil energy. It is also the fastest way to an immediate return investment.Cutting waste saves money, whether you are a business leader or a head of a household.”
Citing unemployment, (25 % in Detroit,) and citing Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth as a must-read, the books describes climate change as a “ a moral issue,” and asserts that solving climate change is “THE WAY OUT of the economic crisis.” It also asserts that disasters are “not only a humanitarian disaster but a business risk.” The author then outlines the inside story of capitalism's response to climate change, in what turns out to be, regardless of your degree of reverence for market forces, a very entertaining series of case studies. 
The book also introduces the not-a-commonly-use-household word “The Investor Network on Climate Risk,” a consortium of sorts which comprises over 80 institutional investors collectively managing more than 480 trillion in assets and launched in 2003. This group  introduced a 10 point plan for leading financial investors to address climate risk and seize investment opportunity. But wait, before you think it's exclusively disaster capitalism, the key point became disclosure, as well as laws requiring a company to disclose any environmental liabilities that could affect an investor's  “view” of an organization. Sounds so stuffy and papery, but not really when we are talking about the influence of trillions of dollars. Since 2002, the UK's Carbon Disclosure Project has surveyed the 500 biggest companies in the world. Instead of the CDP being an annoying gadfly, the results were embraced by some pretty big players as extremely useful stuff. By 2006, 60 percent of the companies surveyed had actively replied, realizing the value in making public commitments to support limits on greenhouse gases, other emissions and to disclose climate risk information to investors. The CPD now represents over $64 Trillion in assets, almost a third of all global institutional investor assets. Just to give you a sneak view into some of her generously sprinkled case studies, the author describes the odyssey of Walmart, their commitment of 417 million in new lighting systems. In 2005 Walmart pledged to be supplied by 100 renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain resources and the environment. Ambitious but doable, and it paid off. In 2008, while the rest of the stock market was experiencing a crash, Walmart's stocks rose. As well, Walmart called a meeting that year in China of its 1000 largest suppliers, Chinese government representatives and the CDP among other attendees with the intention of aggressively building a more environmentally and socially responsible supply chain. Walmart began phasing in the plan by 2009 and expanding to suppliers around the world by 2011. Companies that met the criteria most stringently would be chosen as sources for products and materials, the others Walmart rejected for the big blue trash bin of corporate failure.
Another case example which I liked in the book is in Florida, where the Florida Governor wanted to implement aggressive efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, and was willing make great expenses to do it. Instead Florida found doing so would add $28 billion by 2025 and is enjoying the boom. Thanks to such examples, it is now well-established that protecting the environment creates, rather than costs jobs.  “The United States is losing global leadership by lagging in the new green gold rush.”
There are other fascinating examples, especially in her The World Without Oil chapter, and if you read it, you will these include Richard Branson of Virgin Air's progress with biofuels and airline emission reductions, which Monbriot sees an one of the most major polluters left to tackle. There is also discussions of the use of algae to create biofuel, and much more!  Hunter Lovins in her ever-present black cowboy hat is the President and Founder of Natural Capital Solutions, Professor of Sustainable Management at BARD, and celebrated co-creator of the “Natural Capitalism” concept, as well as being a sought speaker and mentor named Millennium TIME Magazine Hero of the Planet. Her co-author, Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., is a climate strategist focused on urban environments, and a sustainable development leader.

A highly indexed book, extensively footnoted, I quite enjoyed it. Recommended read.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saris on Scooters: How Microcredit is Changing Village India by Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos

Read this book! The women described within these pages demonstrate an extraordinary courage and determination to not only survive, but to thrive. One of the ways they shift oppression into small industry supporting struggling communities is through the action of microcredit, a concept made famous by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos, who has won the GG literary award and is a former journalism professor, based on trips between 2001 and 2008, spent 21 months in India meeting the grassroots women who put their communities on the map with their brilliant use of the microcredit system. She dedicates the book to the Dalits who showed her such trailblazing courage. The book is organized into 26 chapters, each with several charming photos telling the story of women facing extraordinary adversity. Opening with the story of a young woman who drove the bootlegger out of her rural community, (where moneylenders were charging as much as 120% on interest) she and her collegues established self-help groups to escape loan-sharking, enslavement and dowry deaths, and accessing life-changing microcredit for their projects. Enslavement, generally to the high-pesticide cotton crop-picking industry, is extremely common for girls, as child labour is poorly protected, (according to the 2001 census, there were 65 million child slaves across India). Rural women activists fought back with a cotton seed collective, forming a federation of 35 villages and determining there were at least 800 girls enslaved in their region, many of them sick from pesticide-related illnesses. The group is slowly making headway, producing profitable pesticide-free cotton and prohibiting child labour on their crops. The book continues with stories of literacy campaigns, including education for girls forced to drop out in order to work in cotton. In each case, they directly challenge tradition and unite to make a better future for themselves in the process. In chapter 10, McLeod Arnopoulos visits the Navdanya farm, and interviews the women in 2004 who are maintaining the seedbank that grew into the familiar name and made Navdanya the world-famous story of inspiration it is today. Also of note in the book are the various examples of Muslim and Hindu women working side-by-side, during an era of deadly conflict and strife. The author comments that the streets of Amedebad reminded her of the October crisis, with tanks in the streets because of sectarian violence. Despite his, she locates SEWA, the Self-employed Women's Association, who had organized themselves into cooperatives and unions, and then started their own bank after existing banks refused to help them. Through the bank, which allowed the members to pay off debts and take out loans under very reasonable conditions, the women also accessed accident and health insurance coverage for their members. The membership was a mix of Muslim, Hindu and other groups, and offered literacy programs and leadership programs. Arnopoulos writes, “consisting of a blend of gutsy young college-educated women organizers along with steadfast grassroots women leaders from slums and villages, SEWA was responsible for the formation of a range of unions covering incense stick-rollers, street vendors, home garment workers, headlong workers, construction workers, paper-pickers, bidi-rollers, and more. In addition, over 85 autonomous cooperatives had been created for several occupational groups.” By reading of these success stories, we can imagine the hope microcredit offers for women in Canada, where many ghettos exist, such as those experienced by women who may have trained for a speciality such as nontraditional trades but have no support, no possible way to transport their equipment to work, no way to demonstrate their skills to their market and are overlooked for jobs younger applicants consistently fill. The microloan system gives hope to those who have lived below the poverty line their entire lives in so-called developing and first world nations alike. Microcredit and the spirit behind microcredit systems suggests a world where the poor may use their own volition to better themselves, something that is surely a human right. To use our own strengths to build a future based on our own basic skills, driven by our own healthy human ambition and industriousness is a right we find frequently an issue even in Canada, while in places such as India where microcredit is used brilliantly by the women in this book, a future hope in this life-and-death struggle is made a little more fathomable to millions.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Generation Green: The Ultimate Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life

Generation Green: The Ultimate Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life

Linda Sivertsen and Tosh Sivertsen
Published by Simon Pulse, (NY, London, Sydney, Toronto), an imprint of Simon and Schuster, 2008

This nine chapter book is for the youth market and an excellent gift for your teen. Sporting a super-nice cover, it features an attractive beige and green paper-bag look and the responsible tone of friendly leafy green imagery. The table of contents uses a green design message and navigation is easy.

The intro is a (semi-hilarious) address from Tosh to teenagers everywhere. “A lot of people think teens are too self-involved to care about global issues. Sure, if your dad and mom are fighting or your ex-best friend is going out with your ex or your family cat has to be put to sleep or you flunked your last math test, okay, your going to worry more about that stuff than about a melting glacier thousands of miles away. A least for that day or week or month. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care. I’m convinced we do. We’re just not sure what to do next.” Tosh is addressing the "Green Generation," the youth who face global warming and climate change as they approach adulthood, questioning authority and wondering what to do next. It also immediately addresses a fairly unspoken issue: this is a generation that needs to feel empowered, not cynical and depressed!

“We’ll introduce you to teens and several celebrity friends who are doing some really great things for the environment, as well as people we just find inspiring. We’ll share our favourite tips for greener living, ideas that can change your family, your town, or even a law or two.” I like that, change a law or two! Smells like teen spirit!

Back cover: We all know about the earth’s environmental crisis, but there is someone who can truly make a difference: you.”

Linda and son, Tosh are on the back cover also. They both look great, and have a speaking circuit. Tosh seems to really have a knack at speaking to youth, while Linda seems to be excellent at organizing ideas and selecting useful, relevant, teen-inspiring information.

Chapter One, titled, “Green Machine” is direct. “Maybe your thinking, Hey that’s okay. I like warmer weather, so what’s the problem? Those higher temperatures are causing animal and plant extinctions; failed crops; lower water tables; drying wells; creeks, and rivers; disappearing lakes; a decrease in snowpack and glaciers worldwide; and longer, scarier fire seasons...Is it too late to fix it?” This is helpful, because teen rebellion inclines young people to either fully grasp the issues and then struggle with their role in working to fix it, or to become insensitive climate change deniers just for the temporary thrill of pissing off adults who care. Tosh clarifies this with direct talk, and makes the book an enjoyable read along the way. Tosh is really fond of the ocean, and seems well on his way to creating a whole generation of strong and enviro-educated surfer dudes with marine health at the fore.

“What few people realize is that the oxygen we breathe comes more from the ocean than from the world’s forests-as much as 70 to 80 percent! (Most of it comes from the atmosphere or is produced by phytoplankton.) There’s no way to underscore the importance of cleaning up our oceans and helping fish populations rebound.” Thanks, Tosh! I'm glad you said that. The oceans are so under-regulated it's mind-bending. And your generation is the one to push for the difference we need, to tip the scales in favour of realistic international laws and policy-making that protects our planet.

The book just gets sweeter. Chapter 2 is called Eating Green and it really clears up a lot of questions young people have about food choices, where to find healthy food, and why it's so important to use consumer power to move away from meat-centered factory farming. In a green border, there are a lot of Did You Know's: “Automobile emission is one of the biggest contributor to global warming, with an estimated 850 million vehicles on the road.” Each chapter has plenty of sweet pull quotes, and large print dash bordered remarks such as; “Did you know that shoes can be vegan?” followed by reference and an encouragement to “Google it!” Chapter 6, Green Wheels, explains some of the transport options now, and gives a good overview of where the future is heading. Chapter 7 is called Greener Schools and Careers, and that's exactly what it covers. Because it's written by Linda and Tosh, you don't feel like you are sitting in lecture hall or listening to a career advisor in a stuffy office, you feel like your future is within your control. Very important touch for youth in an era of climate change, because this tackles issues involving power, money and their impact on the world in a way they can actually relate to. Chapter 8 is called Step Up and Speak Out. I loved Chapter 8, because it carries on with the power theme by involving them in their community as a necessary element to their own social identity. It also includes an interview with Julia Butterfly. Chapter 9, A Day in a Green Life, “is your head exploding yet?” follows some of Tosh's favourite day-to-day activities in a way that shows it not only being done, but being fun. The book's acknowledgements include a thank you to Mother Earth, kind of an unusual touch and very sweet. Anyone considering getting this book for a young person will also be pleased to find that the resources page in the back include 27 websites listed under “Some of our Favourite Green Sites” and another listing called, “A Few of the Green Magazines We Love Reading,” which is kinda mainstream, but really solid. The list includes E/The Environmental Magazine, Kiwi, Mother Jones, National Geographic, onearth, Plenty, Sierra, Waterkeeper. The back pages also supply recommended earth-loving green charities, organizations, and potential employment/volunteership resources for the ambitious teenager at home. These 21 listings including Earth Action Network, Earth Island Institute, Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Waterkeeper Alliance among others.

They also have a section called Some of Our Favorite Green Books (for further study) which include: Eating in the Raw, Feeling Healthier, and Looking Younger the Raw Food Way.

The complete list involves 14 selections, but among them is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Lester Brown’s Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, and Julia Hill Butterfly's, One Makes The Difference. Ad on the back to join the Sierra student coalition. Great book, really densely packed and bursting with energy at the same time. With a green greener, greenest rating at each step, “better safe than sorry!” and loaded with questions people ask, if you are looking for some guidance and some excellent answers, or know a youth who is, grab this book and do what Tosh Sivertsen tells you to. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

On Fracking

On Fracking by C. Alexia Lane
2013, Rocky Mountain Books, 127 pages.

This is a helpful little hardcover written not in a biased way but with an examining look at the issues. Although it is just a tiny book, one you could slip into your pocket and bring along to the office or the next commute, it looks at “the potential contamination of groundwater source; the potential ecotoxicological effects from fracking, climate change and water management initiatives; and the bioengineering of organisms to enhance shale gas extraction.” Opening with a little history of the story of oil in North America, C. Alexia Lane does a commendable job of discussing the development of this industry, new drilling technologies, and the arrival of Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring 1962 in a section usefully called, “That Was Then.” “Section “This Is Now,” leads into industry interest in the highly controversial method called fracking,“multi-stage hydraulic fracturing of underground rock strata in conjunction with direct drilling- downward, then horizontally or at an angle into the desired formation” using high-pressure chemically-mixed water, involving flow back fluid that slowly returns the chemical cocktail of contaminants and water to the surface, over the course of months. Because it involves what some might call the environmentally suicidal mixing of chemicals into our precious groundwater, industry and everyday citizen alike acknowledge that “fracking threatens the integrity of both our surface water and our groundwater sources.” An industry with a massive lack of regulatory policies regarding contamination, the fracking industry suffers from a lack of understanding about our groundwater, and our species in general suffers from a lack of understanding regarding the future impact of this somewhat experimental new method. Not one to present the reader with recent images of chemically-mixed water issuing from kitchen taps that is actually flammable, C. Alexia Lane focuses on discussing the huge amount of ground water used in this process in an era when all clean water requires protection. Water management is made complicated by the way it is governed, because it is not “based on hydrological connectivity” but is governed at thew moment by piecemeal legislation and regulation. Conflicts occur most frequently when it flows across man-made boundaries, something both surface and groundwater inevitably does. Lane examines some of the better and most intelligent policies and proposals never put in place, and informs us that Canada requires strong new laws protecting water governance that are similar in design to American laws if we are not to risk the wholesale destruction of our water table. Not only laws, cautions Lane, but a need for a national framework, is extremely pressing. While in the United States there are laws overseen and enforced by federal bodies, Canada is beginning to appear to the U.S. as if it is relying upon industry to self-regulate, an absurd situation. Lane examines a case study in Alberta and one in Texas: places where fracking because there is already a water scarcity is creating havoc. In Texas, freshwater resources are dwindling, making drought a new issue in which fracking contamination now plays a role. Interestingly, “acute and chronic components of many individual fracking fluid components have been documented” but not the cocktail of fluid in combination with local geology. With no long term data, stringent measures are needed fast, and, because of the soluble nature of fracking chemicals, it is considered technically not possible to clean this water, and impossible to consider with any advance in future technology the remediating of our precious and ancient groundwater to anything like its original state. As well, groundwater becomes vitally important to our survival as secure clean surface water harder dwindle and change. While proponents of fracking argue that the drilling process goes past groundwater to deeper sites, the book explains that while much fracking goes to depths that pass through potable groundwater, (and some fracking even occurs on the same depth as groundwater) that deep drilling only causes the contaminant cocktail to rise back to the surface after passing up through the pristine groundwater table from below. Lane refers to the issue of water management as “time-sensitive”and states that citizens must participate in encouraging the appropriate implementation of legislation to protect our freshwater. Vermont has banned fracking, North Carolina is “demonstrating the precautionary principle” and other places are well-advised to follow this example. British Columbia and Alberta require enforcement of public disclosure of chemical ingredients in fracking fluid, there is a moratorium of fracking in Quebec, and a full ban on fracking in Nova Scotia until 2014 is being challenges by industry now. Because of the vital and ancient nature of groundwater, Lane states, “we all have stake in protecting its integrity.” However, “in the face of extensive fracking operations across the continent,” this will require considerable focus and Lane directs that “we must be steadfast and vigilant to achieve our water preservation objectives.” Closing with extensive notes and references, the book is optimistic about the urgent need for legislation, transparency and the outright banning of certain procedures in order to defend ancient underground water, as well as massive amount of surface water, from industrial contamination. Remarks Lane, “the power resides within each of us and all of us together.”

Saturday, 19 September 2015

At The Cutting Edge

Environmental Book Review
Elizabeth May
At the Cutting Edge, Key Porter, 2005

Timeless and exacting, At the Cutting Edge is a fascinating investigation of Canadian forestry politics through the eyes of an exceptional Canadian parliamentarian and environmental leader. Farley Mowat comments in the introduction, “the forestry industry will hate this book. But it cannot pretend it is based on false premises...This book is thoroughly grounded on a mountain of government-generated -as well independent data- that inexorably demonstrates that, beyond all rhetoric, the forestry industry is committing an atrocity against this living earth.” Early in the book, May introduces a few very key ideas. Canada’s forests are a public resource. “Only 7 percent of Canada's forest is privately held, compared to roughly 70 percent in the United States and Sweden.” She explains, “the vast majority of Canadian forest is owned by the Crown. For the non-Canadian reader, this may sound perfectly delightful: visions of Her Majesty taking tea in the midst of the boreal come to mind. The term Crown land simply means that the land is owned by the people of Canada, with jurisdictions over forests vested in provinces. Thus, Canadians can exert a special interest, even a proprietary interest, over the management of their forests. The irony is that there has been virtually no public oversight of forest policy.” Written with May's good-humoured style, such an idea becomes an engaging challenge. “When you hear an industry spokesman talking about the threat a park represents or read about the compensation that industry demands if forest is set aside for a park, it is easy to forget that industry, for the most part, does not own the land it logs.” The book relates a perfectly cringe-making history of bargain basement leases with forest companies, disastrously combined with a lack of “accurate inventory information” and regulation. May warns that the Federal government, rather than producing useful forest science research “acts as a propaganda arm of Canada’s forestry industry,” and explains that by reading some of their documents, “a reasonable person might well be convinced of a deep and abiding commitment to ecological values across Canada. But the reality in the forest is far different.” Statistically, the felling of pristine and ancient forests has steadily increased, and - brace yourself - “approximately 80 per cent of everything that is logged in Canada is clear-cut, while 90 per cent of the cut comes from primary or old-growth forests.” May introduces a few more key concepts such as the term “NSR” lands, “not sufficiently restocked” remarking that “Canada is converting forest ecosystems to fibre farms...while there is no track record of healthy second and third growth forests following...clear-cutting,” something she calls “a vast and reckless experiment.” While the creatures and other species which form the intricate life of a forest are losing their habitat, fewer Canadians are employed per tree cut. Recent trends in mechanization, which she refers to as “disturbingly reminiscent of the cod fishery,” featuring machines capable of cutting down forests with the navigation of a single operator, are something May says is comparable to massive draggers which invisibly decimate the ocean floor. Not to ignore large projects such as the Tar Sands, May explains that industries such as oil and gas, are currently “destroying boreal forest with no thought of replanting or restoration.”
A forest a “rich myriad of species and their interrelationships...We can have a landscape of trees, but lose complexity of the original forest.” In her chapter “Myths and Propaganda,” May digs in, illuminating the reader in her energetic style about the number and variety of bullshit claims made by the forestry industry. An example of these offensive proposals include the myth that “clear-cutting increases biodiversity” when in fact, while demolished areas after a clear cut may proliferate with wild species in great numbers, the species have nothing to do with the original forest.” Because the new “biodiversity will not “serve to protect water systems, prevent landslide, mineral exposure, soil erosion and sediment run off into rivers and streams,” it is absurd for the forestry industry to claim clear-cutting has any positive spin-off. Such regrowth does not “protect the complex subterranean mycorrhizal fungi and the corresponding vast networks of this and other soil bacteria which provide a web of life to the forest.” In reality, erosion follows a clear-cut. Fire doesn't do this, but industry clear cutting, the impact of large equipment, and the invasion of roads making it no longer wilderness, does.
May, fond of the ideas of environmentalist Paul Hawkins, cites his words in the book, Ecology of Commerce. “CEO's of large corporations do not awaken each bright new day and ponder gleefully how they can rape and pillage the planet. Nor are they particularly venal and amoral. In fact, on an individual basis, many forest-industry executives share the concerns of expressed in this book. Why, then, does the environment suffer while jobs disappear? As Paul Hawkins brilliant insight has it, what we have here is a 'design problem.'” May makes it obvious in the rest of the book that the “design problem” involves a failure to protect and monitor the felling of our forests and an absence of appropriate legislation and enforced controls in a situation that clearly begs for it.
In her chapter titled “Voodoo Forestry” May sheds light on ridiculous and corrupt methods designed to work tricks with the annual Allowable Cut, or AAC. One of these is to reduce harvest age to allow more logging now. “Through this device, over-cutting is accelerated: a Douglas fir, for example, which can live 750 years, is declared ready for logging at sixty to eighty years old.” Like many of us, May is concerned about pollution and the role forests play in processing CO2. In her chapter “The Lungs of the Planet,” she reminds us that “the planet's boreal region is estimated to hold 65 million tons of carbon in its trunks, branches and leaves, and a further 270 billion tons in its soil and decaying matter. Every single year, the boreal region absorbs roughly 0.4 to 0.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. “ Present environmentally stressors on trees cause enormous impact, including UV-B exposure in Canada’s boreal, with biomass loss ranging from 25 percent for jack pine to 50 percent biomass loss for white and black spruce.” Climate changes, fire, and “Climate modelling by the federal government's forest service and Enviro-Canada has attempted to predict the impact on Canadian forests of the anticipated atmospheric doubling of carbon dioxide. The results are sobering. The climatic zone appropriate for boreal forests would be reduced to areas of Northern Quebec and Labrador, with a small section of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.” May also reminds us that extreme weather has played a role in damaging millions of trees, as have increased fires and assault by insects such as the mountain pine beetle, susceptible only to severe cold and hopefully intervention by pheremone-based science. May offers here a very concise analysis of carbon sequestration, establishing that any forestry claim suggesting that plantations can accelerate carbon absorption are bad science, as young forest will not have anything remotely close to the biomass approaching “old-growth storage capacity for at least 200 years.” She also discusses corruption involved in greenhouse gas “carbon credit” trading, and the offensive first world scams behind Kyoto's Clean Air Development mechanism.
May dedicates the next few chapters to a history of efforts to curb the release of organochlorides by pulp mills, and resistance by the industry. A history of the softwood lumber debate follows, as well as an interesting description of the battle to achieve valid certification for sustainable forestry practices.
While the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) came under fire as not knowing what they were certifying, and alienated “most of the environmental and aboriginal communities...the CSA process created considerable public debate about Eco-labelling” a new stamp of approval came into being, The Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC approach was started by the World Wildlife Fund in 1993. FSC standards are specific: “Logging operations must leave 10 to 50 per cent of the forest in conditions similar to those following a natural disturbance. Plans must be in place to maintain or restore large areas of wildlife habitat. Special management provisions within 65 metres of all permanent bodies of water, and applicants must take steps to reduce their use of chemical pesticides. If Aboriginal community is affected, companies must reach agreement with the community; that agreement must include the acceptance of the management plan, opportunities for the community to participate in long-term benefits, assessment of Native rights and traditional land use, measures to protect Native values, and a dispute resolution mechanism. No other certificate comes close to matching these rigorous standards.” The FSC process has taken off in Canada, however, Canadians should be cautious about a trend in which confidence in industry self-regulation justifies reduction of forest service staff, a dangerous budget-cutting choice to decrease provincial government deficits. The book continues with a description of other pressures on forests, including poor land-use planning, population pressures, and loss of important forest biodiversity through urban sprawl.“Urban sprawl has cleared remnant old-growth Acadian forest near Halifax, and Carolinian old-growth near London, Ontario. These small forests near urban areas need to be vigorously protected.” May also reminds us that “far north of agricultural and urban Canada are huge flooded reservoirs where once there were forests. Thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest have been drowned as a result of hydroelectric development in northern Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario.” May also lays waste to the notion that Hydoelectricity is “clean” energy. “While hydroelectric developers attempt to promote electricity from the damming of wild rivers as environmentally acceptable, the reality is far different. Hydroelectricity can not truly be described as 'renewable.' Neither is it carbon neutral, the drowning of forests and other organic material has a significant impact on carbon, releasing vast amounts of methane. The environmental impact, besides loss of habitat, include the creation of methyl mercury and its uptake into the aquatic life of the reservoir. The Cree of Northern Quebec experienced mercury contamination as fish, a traditional part of their diet and culture, were poisoned by this 'clean' source of energy. The manipulation of water flow impacts entire water systems, changing hydrology with impacts on wetlands and habitats along the stream and river edges. These areas are among the most productive for a wide range of species.” the book also discusses mining. “There are over seven thousand abandoned mines in the boreal region, with sixty-nine operating mines and fifty-three that have recently closed. The legacy of poor past practices remains an environmental threat throughout the boreal region...Every year, 650 million tons of solid waste are generated by mining, of which at least one-fifth is assumed to be toxic. The abandoned mines pose a range of serious environmental risks, from pooled arsenic to acid mine drainage, cyanide and despoiled landscapes.” Consistent with the work of writers such as Tar Sands journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, May remarks, “the largest of the non-logging threats to Canada' forests is clearly that posed by petroleum development...From the devastated moonscapes of the Athabasca Tar Sands to the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, the largest ecological footprint hovering over Canada’s boreal is the giant boot of the fossil fuel industry.”
The second part of the book is a cooling green forest one has been traveling toward. However, upon arrival, readers of May's work find they are newly-imbued with enormous concern for the forest, what May terms “engagement” with the issues, based upon the crash course offered in the first half. Part two, “Once a land of trees” opens with a chapter titled, “The Lost Forests,” and is an extremely well-composed description of forests in Canada. Opening with The Carolinian, which spans just 550 kilometres in Southern Ontario, May explains that, although tiny, this forest hold more tree species than any other forest in Canada, specifically, “seventy different species of native trees, over two thousand types of plants, four hundred bird species, and nearly fifty different species of reptiles and amphibians.” May describes the The Acadian. “Unlike the Carolinian, the ecosystem known as the Acadian is found only in Canada” with a “species assemblage that is unique in the world.” Says May, “it was a forest of massive hardwoods: Oaks, Maple, Birch, Beech, Butternut and Walnut. Conifers were also present, including the magnificent Hemlock, Pine and Spruce. Wildlife from lynx to caribou were indigenous in these forests. The caribou has been displaced by moose and deer; the lynx are rarely sighted and are listed as endangered. Fortunately, the raptors do well, with bald eagles abundant, scanning the river valleys and ocean waves for fish. Great blue herons stand stoically at the water's edge with Zen like patience. Herons are also forest-dwellers, nesting in treetop rookeries. Pine martins, river otter and other small mammals live in these forests, as do black bears, red foxes and snowshoe hares. Rare plants can be found below the branches, such as orchids, as well as witch hazel and staghorn sumac.” Because of logging and sprawl, “many of the hardwood species have been virtually eliminated and the softwoods, balsam, fir and spruce-now predominate.” Only approximately 5% of the Acadian is left. Fortunately, the Acadian is a major conservation priority. From here May details with equal beauty the ancient temperate rainforests, “once an abundant ecosystem, it has been reduced (globally) to less than half its range...While British Columbia has a full 205 of all the world's surviving temperate rainforests within its borders,” May cautions that, “more than half the original coastal rainforest has already been clear-cut.” The rest of the chapter is fabulously dedicated to other forests, The Montane, The Columbia, The Subalpine, The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and the Boreal. May then shifts her attention to describing the forest situation from the basis of provincial legislation, beginning with the Atlantic Provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, and moving on to a chapter describing conservation challenges in Quebec. This chapter is followed by Ontario, The Prairies, British Columbia and The Territories. Her final two chapters, “Signs of hope,” and “Where do we go from here?” are uplifting and feel a little bit like tips for reorganizing activist priorities after a long camping trip in one of Canada's national parks. Over 50 pages of notes follow, as May is never one to disregard science, and a helpful index of 15 pages round out this brilliant read. Highly recommended, indispensable and enobling reading for any Canadian wishing to grasp the urgent issues facing our nation.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times

Environmental Book Review 
The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times
Albert Bates
New Society Publishers www.newsociety.com

Hilarious and grim at once, Bates indy-survivalist classic, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, is a 236 page collection of cosmic life-road instructions, including an extensive index and links to many mysterious alternative resources. Mr. Bates, a smiling American gent with an austere grey beard who terms peak oil depletion a “crude awakening,” closes each chapter with a recipe. Not merely asides, each of Bates’s recipes are accompanied by a difficulty rating, and Roasted Chestnuts are generously followed by Quintana Chiltomate Salsa and Fresh Tortilla Chips only one page later. So Bates loves to cook, but more than this, he ardently wants to provide you with a user-friendly guide book to rescuing both your planet and your life. Bates has divided the book itself into steps and stages. Early on in this volume, Bates hashes out ethical constraints around money and usury in major religions (including Islam), discusses non-inflationary money such as barter systems, and features at close an exquisite Mushroom Quesadilla recipe with an RDA index. It is only the first few pages of this adept and densely-packed classic, written by Albert Bates, “codirector of the Global Village institute for Appropriate Technology since 1984 and the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee since 1994, where he has taught sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and restoration ecology to students from more than 50 nations.” Followed by a chapter on water dependency, including how to assess one’s “water-readiness,” Bates then offers a chapter on creating one's own energy. Discussing power outages and solar heating, Bates profiles the modular Solar Village design of J├╝rgen Kleinwachter (apparently developed for widespread use in Africa) which heats by transporting hot oil through piping to a Stirling engine where it makes electricity. Bates expounds on wood, fireplaces, grills and how to make a cob oven. Solar water heating and wind turbines are included, as well as how to estimate horsepower, hydro photovoltaic and biomass potential, making the chapter indispensable to the right reader. As each chapter sports a recipe, let’s fast forward to a zinger: the ingenious “Cleopatra,” a salad which includes bite-sized romaine and almond dressing! In fact, in Step 5, “Grow Your Own Food,” the pleasures of gardening, the reality of urban agriculture, and the fabulousness of organic food include a number of salad ideas too tasty and fantastic to be missed. This chapter also includes details on extending the season through greenhouses, making soil, (the product of decay) through composting, and an insert “What Non-vegetarians need to Know About Soy Foods.” Vermiculture and mulching, food animals, sprouting and growing mushrooms are all included. Step 6: (How to Begin Storing Food) reminds us we are truly on a trip into the mind of a guy who lives in a Tennessee enclave where Survivalism is at the top of menu for discussion on Saturday night. Pressure canners, making jams and jellies, food drying, “crazing” fruit, solar-electric refrigeration, and planning food to store are all detailed Recipe? Let me guess. Jam, but quality Tennessee jam, rest assured. And so, as we suspected, we arrive at the Step discussing “Fallout Shelters” and, from the rolling green hills of the rifle-toting American wilderness, Bates calls for us to “Be Prepared!” It may actually good for Bates to get this Big Daddy business out of the way at this part of the book. Crash Proofing, (write down every appliance and fixture in your home that is dependent on fossil fuel energy) preparing for anything, being fit, encouraging your neighbours to be prepared, providing support if there is a crisis, anxieties, speaking to children about all of this, (I think he may want to speak to a psychiatrist about all of this) and so on. Finally, just when we thought, even if there was excellent jam, we would do anything not to be trapped in a fallout shelter with Bates, comes “Retooling.” Here we explore the impracticality of the automobile in its current form. A lovely, relaxing chapter describing the need for new conceptual vehicles and commercial vehicles, air travel industry “dinosaurs,” refueling systems and alternative fuels. Sadly, Bates’ presentation as future-thinking takes a dive evocative of Bush’s floundered energy policy while he wastes time discussing the merits of ethanol and several other Biofuels, which, by the time of publication, have been entirely debunked for their negative net (they create more CO2 in production than they ever displace). Other fuels such as Biogas, which Vanadana Shiva considers respect-worthy, are also detailed, while Biodiesel is offered perhaps a naiive degree of praise. DME (Dimethyl Ether) initiatives in China (although it takes 3 litres of water to produce one litre of DME) are also given more credit than they potentially deserve. Arriving at the more promising choice, Hydrogen, (H2) “four times bulkier than kerosene, but 2.8 times lighter” we find Bates, similar to an earlier make-your-own Biofuel moonshine rap, actually discussing homemade hydrogen units “a small reformer in the car’s luggage compartment, (made from a used propane tank or beer keg with electrodes bubbling water) generating enough H2 pressure in the tank to force a steady stream of hydrogen gas into the carburetor or fuel injectors, thereby increasing the combustion and decreasing the amount of gasoline burned by 15 to 30 per cent.” Commercial version available, but trust that this guy would know someone with a beer keg version. After a few chapters of discussion regarding lifestyle changes and commuting options, including, “get a horse” we arrive at “Imagine Sustainability.” Here again, Bates is back in grim mode, remarking in a cold way that sustainability is nothing, because everything falls apart, and so what we really need is “a more or less steady-state economy in which we destroy nothing, reuse and recycle, and try to keep the natural world, which provides our every need, healthy and robust…to sustain our puny existences for their natural span…” The rest of the chapter becomes Macho as Bates presents the Four Horsemen of Bio, Robo, CO2, and Nuke. Here Bates lists the content of an average light bulb and compares it to the mining required for stocking such a product. Moving on to housing, he praises several constructions such as teepees for their resilience, “Mongolian yurts thwart Gobi dust storms using a Bernoulli Effect, channeling wind harmlessly around a cone of enclosed space.” The author also presents the Maya as exceptional survivors, having lived through major drought in the form of “two and perhaps three major climate changes.” Exploring his ideas in design for sustainability, and a list of elements for design, including those that sustain “values” of the society such as individual liberty and family ties, the author comments that “we want to sustain the regenerative ability of natural systems to provide life-supporting service that are rarely counted by economists…” Bates then explores population growth by comparing it to economic “growth” and citing a bacteria theory, a little over-simplified if you ask me, as he concludes his chapter with economists Kenneth Boulding’s 1971 Misery Theorem.” If the only thing that can check population growth is misery, then it will keep growing until misery makes it stop.” Bates hopes perhaps there is a more cheerful solution, but if that is so, why supply the most disturbing one? Macho. Chapter (Step 11) “Quit your Job” is precious, as are the chapters that follow it. An ode to the “Slow Movement” with headings such as “creative loafing,” “glossary of surf speak” and “dismantling useless things” for inspiration, Bates strongly advocates achieving a quality of existence on the basis of the idea that material wealth will never produce happiness, and that to increase happiness and comfort, we must scale back. Advocating ecological agriculture and the way that “permaculture undertakes the harmonious joining of humans in their agriculture” the chapter wraps up with a perceptably apologetic spicy orange pumpkin mousse. Step 12 “Utopia by Morning” is surely one of my favorite discussions in this book, because here Bates is happy again, revelling in something he not only knows well, but something he hinges his own macho hippy dude hope upon seeing thrive. Because more people now live within cities than outside them, the redesign of cities has become more urgent. Bates refers to New Urbanists as ”those in the city-building business who just won’t give up.” To our delight, Bates is a Jane Jacobs fan. “Jane Jacobs epitomized the old guard. The author of Death and Life of American Great cities, The Economics of Cities, Systems of Survival, and The Nature of Economies, she wrote in Dark Age Ahead an obituary for contemporary city streets: Not all roads are community killers like those that have become so common in North America and in countries influenced by North American highway planning. Some roads are famous for fostering community-life, as they bring people into casual, pleasant and frequent face-to-face contact with one another. Many an ordinary Main Street used to do these services, but Main Streets have proved easily transformable into bleak, standardized community killers...” A Jane-inspired Bates writes that, “versatile boulevards are little-known in North America, and those that do exist are seldom more than a ghost of what they could be.” Curious, for a guy who spends so much rural time on The Farm, but indeed an insight. “Elsewhere in the world, especially in places with Mediterranean cultures, boulevards are places to which people flock for a stroll when the day’s work is done, to see neighbours, get word of strangers, pick up other news, and enjoy a coffee or a beer and chat while they take in the passing scene, including sidewalk play of children. People in cities and neighbourhoods in much of the world understand their boulevard to be at the heart of their communities. A well-designed boulevard is always well provided with trees along its margins and medians, because a major concern of serous boulevard designers is to create environments welcoming to pedestrians.” Nice, and a fresh aspect to the author, who suddenly shines as a bit of a poet trapped into canning fruit. In his new metropolitan tone, Yet more captivating, Bates now turns to a discussion of “Ecocity.” “The Ecocity movement turns new urbanism up a notch. Ecocityists are dedicated to reshaping urban landscape…they want to return biodiversity- including fish, frogs and dragonflies-to the innermost hearts of cities by reopening paved-over creeks and wetlands, returning nature to back lots and planters, and giving nature a longer leash. Ecocity is about growing food in de-paved streets and producing electricity from solar alleys. It is about adding greenhouses to rooftops, terraces, and window boxes for heat and kitchen gardens. It is less about rerouting cars and trucks within cities, and more about eliminating them altogether.” So should Bates not take a break from The Farm and spend some time living in such places? It seems, in fact, that Bates does tour, and that he has developed a special admiration for activists in several. To Bates, China is a land “which will add another 2 billion people in the next 30 years – 18,265 additional people every per day, a small city twice a week, a city the size of Vancouver or Sydney twice each year. With the natural systems that nourished their ancient civilizations now threadbare and seriously imperiled, it is not hard to imagine why the Chinese are interested in Ecocities.” “If one thinks of an Ecocity as a collection of self-sustaining Ecovillages, Bates declares it possible that China can accomplish an Ecocity transition more easily than in the West. There follows a description of wonderful international communities and populist communes throughout history. Ecovillage: Bates has a fondness for the Ecovillage, having spent the past 35 years of his life living on The Farm, a proto-ecovillage in Tennessee. He spent the years from 1992 to 2004 travelling as an emissary for the Ecovillage movement to hundreds of experiments of six different continents. He saw many success stories and many failures. Remarkably, he feels that many Ecovillages fail simply because they don’t have enough members. “Sustainable community is not about dominance, it is about listening.” Bates then addresses developing consensus and solution-oriented behaviour, and how to honestly express yourself without blaming or criticizing, as well as how to clearly request what you need without demanding. Again he provides resource links on this topic. Afterword, the final chapter, Bates reminds us that we have had many stories and myths since antiquity regarding the Earth as our mother, our changing nurturer, our Goddess. He cites the myth of Khali as particularly appropriate for our times, “mad dancing, dishevelled hair, and eerie howl…The world is created and destroyed in Khali’s wild dancing; redemption comes only when we realize that we are invited to take part in her dance, to yield to the frenzied beat, to find her rhythm.” Bates comments, “Peak Oil may be a trigger for a global economic depression that lasts many decades. Or it may not…But if Peak Oil doesn’t wake us up to the precariousness of our condition…annihilating the evolutionary systems that sustain us…what will?” So, “let’s not squander this moment. This will be the Great Change.” Dessert is Candylion Frogurt.